Monday, December 4, 2017

A History of Chess by H.J. R. Murray the original 1913 edition

Please listen to the beautiful Mozart Requiem as you read today's post.

History Of ChessHistory Of Chess by Harold J.R. Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This incredibly long book is worth reading but only if you enjoy reading encyclopedias. Murray leaves no stone unturned in this giant epitome on the history of chess. He takes us all the way back to India and describes several of the games there that could very well have developed into European chess.

He takes us from country to country, Persia, China, Japan, Malaysia, everywhere some 1500 years ago where they played any sort of game that resembled today's chess game.

If one is a chess expert or afficionado then he will enjoy the very detailed accounts of chess players and moves and rules with all the comparisons and contrasts in existance.

The book is also full of amusing anecdotes about Moguls and Warriors and their chess games. He also notes that chess was taken up over games of chance since chess required strategy and it felt more propitious to engage in games one had control over believing there was a connection between the game and real life war strategies.

He also traces the development of the various pieces, ones starting out as elephants and servants, eventually turning into knights, bishops and also the queen. The Queen had its own evolution from an innocuous player to the most powerful piece on the board.

Murray describes the development of chess in Europe and how it might have arrived there. The church at first was against the game, regarding it as sinful but later embracing it and was also instrumental in changing some of the pieces.

He records every instance of chess being mentioned in Medieval literature and also how the church and Aristocrats created analogies between the game and religious life and courtly behavior.

In the end he records some of the most famous games up to that time (the book was published in 1913) and also some of the more famous sets such as the Isle of Lewis chess set.

While it was a slog, I'm glad I read it and feel I have a better understanding of a game that possesses a rich and diverse history.

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  1. The Mozart Requiem is one of my favorite pieces on music.

    I have not played chess since I was a teen. Though I do not know that much about it, Chess is so complex and everything about it seems interesting so interesting. It seems that so many not athletic games involve at least some chance. I can see how chess is appealing as something that is in contrast to that.

    1. Hi Brian. I wish I was better at chess. My poor chess set is mostly coffee table decor. I do like to play but I am a horrible strategist. I think your brain has to be wired a certain way.

  2. I think I'll pass on that giant book. I love chess sets in a decorative way, too, and can't say I've played an actual game of it in a very long while. The Mozart music is wonderful!

    1. Hi Marcia, it took me a long time to read the book; it must be two inches thick. But I can say it was interesting, if long. I'm glad you liked the Mozart. He's a favorite of mine.

  3. Mozart superba! i used to play chess; i never ever won a game... then i quit... but kudos for tackling this very large tome; it does sound interesting, but i lost my tbr list, so i most likely won't read it...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle! It is a wonderful Mozart, isn't it? I love Mozart. As for chess, I am a horrible strategist. I taught my son to play when he was young and we played until he started to beat me and he got bored. Luckily I found other people to play with him.

  4. You point to India as the beginning. I’m fascinated that so many ancient cultures contributed so much to the world, but now those cultures — India, for example — have become mere spectres of their former greatness. But I might be overstating the indictment. After all, India is again on the ascent. Thoughts? Again, thanks for the Mozart. What a bright light in our universe!

    1. R.T. That is an interesting comment about India. It's also true in many Middle Eastern countries that are intellectual backwaters now, even though they achieved many great things a thousand years ago. It would be interesting to read a study on that.

      Is India on the ascent? I know Indians have a high reputation in this country as being super achievers and hard workers, but I think that is because our country is based on opportunity and merit. India is stuck in a fatalistic caste system that prevents large portions of their population from bettering themselves.

      Glad you enjoyed Mozart!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.